All you need to know about fixed and variable compensation

Empowering Success: Unleashing the Full Potential of Fixed and Variable Compensation Strategies

In the realm of business and human resource management, compensation strategies are vital tools that can influence an organization’s ability to attract, motivate, and retain top talent. These strategies typically revolve around two primary components: fixed compensation and variable compensation. Fixed compensation is a predetermined, steady income that an employee receives, while variable compensation is an additional, performance-based income that can fluctuate. The balance between these two forms of compensation can profoundly impact an organization’s success, affecting everything from financial management to employee engagement. This article delves deeper into the intricacies of fixed and variable compensation, examining their structures, advantages, disadvantages, and roles in talent retention and organizational success.

fixed and variable compensation
What are Fixed and Variable Compensation?

What are Fixed and Variable Compensation?

A crucial aspect of an employee’s remuneration is the composition of their salary, typically split into two primary parts: fixed and variable compensation. Each employee is entitled to a fixed compensation, paid monthly, and variable compensation, which is performance-based and disbursed at varying intervals.

Fixed Compensation: A Closer Look

Fixed compensation is a predetermined amount agreed upon in the offer letter, which employees receive regularly. This component includes the basic salary, house rent allowance (HRA), conveyance allowance, and employee benefits. Unless there’s a loss of pay incurred, employees are eligible to receive this entirely. While it’s a fixed amount, it may vary due to appraisals or loss of pay.


The salary refers to a set amount of money paid regularly, typically monthly. Known as the basic salary, any additional leaves taken beyond the allowed limit will result in an equivalent deduction. For example, if an employee takes three days of leave while they’re only allowed two in a month, they will lose a day’s salary from their basic salary.


Employee benefits are added perks or privileges provided as part of employment. These benefits can include tax-saving measures, group health insurance, retirement plans, group term life insurance, corporate wellness packages, and paid time off. These are not given in monetary form but contribute significantly to an employee’s overall compensation.

Variable Compensation: An Examination

Variable compensation is the portion of an employee’s pay that changes based on their performance or other metrics. It includes bonuses, commissions, and profit-sharing.


Bonuses are extra pay provided to an employee based on their performance or the company’s profits. If an employee achieves 100% of their goals for the month, they will receive 100% of the bonus. A lesser achievement results in a reduced bonus.


A commission is a sales-based incentive. For instance, if a company offers a 10% commission, a salesperson who closes deals worth 500,000 in a month will receive 50,000 as commission.


Profit-sharing is a portion of the company’s profits distributed to its employees.

Deciphering the Fixed and Variable Compensation Ratio

The fixed to variable compensation ratio represents the proportion of an employee’s pay that is fixed against the variable portion. This ratio isn’t standard and depends on the company’s specific needs and goals, and the employee’s preferences. Several factors influence this ratio:

  • Type of work: For predictable and stable jobs, a higher ratio of fixed-to-variable compensation may be suitable. Conversely, unpredictable jobs or roles with a higher degree of risk may warrant a lower ratio.
  • Company’s financial situation: A company with stable finances can offer a higher ratio of fixed to variable compensation.
  • Employee’s preference: Some employees may favor a higher ratio of fixed to variable compensation for its predictability and stability, while others may prefer a lower ratio for the potential for additional pay based on performance.
  • High dependency employees: Employees with a direct impact on the company’s sales, such as a VP of sales or Head of Product, will usually have a higher variable component.

Fixed and Variable Compensation: A Practical Example

To illustrate these concepts, consider a salesperson with the following compensation structure:

  • Basic Salary: INR 40,000 per month
  • HRA (House Rent Allowance): INR 10,000 per month
  • PF (Provident Fund) Contribution: INR 4,800 per month (12% of basic salary)
  • Sales Commission: 2% of total sales revenue generated by the salesperson in a month

If the salesperson generates a total sales revenue of INR 20,00,000 (INR 2 million) in a month, their variable compensation would be INR 40,000 (2% of INR 20,00,000). Therefore, the total Cost to Company (CTC) for this salesperson would be:

  • Fixed Compensation (Basic Salary + HRA + PF): INR 54,800 per month (INR 40,000 + INR 10,000 + INR 4,800)
  • Variable Compensation (Sales Commission): INR 40,000 per month
  • Total CTC: INR 94,800 per month (INR 54,800 + INR 40,000)

The fixed compensation is a guarantee each month. However, if the salesperson only generates INR 10,00,000 revenue in a particular month, the 2% commission translates to INR 20,000, adjusting the variable pay for that month accordingly.

Salary Hikes and Its Connection with Fixed and Variable Compensation

Salary hikes are a common practice in the corporate world, and they play a significant role in an employee’s fixed compensation. A salary hike, also known as a pay raise or pay increase, is an increase in an employee’s base salary. Companies typically review salaries annually, and hikes are often given based on factors such as the employee’s performance, the company’s financial performance, inflation, and market pay rates for similar roles.

Impact on Fixed Compensation

When an employee receives a salary hike, their fixed compensation increases. This means the employee will have a higher guaranteed income each pay period, providing them with more financial security. From the company’s perspective, giving salary hikes is a way to reward and retain employees, especially top performers, and to stay competitive in the job market.

Connection with Variable Compensation

While a salary hike directly increases an employee’s fixed compensation, it can also indirectly affect their variable compensation. In some cases, variable compensation components like bonuses or commissions are calculated as a percentage of the employee’s base salary. Therefore, when the base salary increases, the potential variable compensation can also increase. This can further incentivize employees to perform at their best, as their performance can lead to higher earnings.

Are you feeling undervalued and underpaid? Do you think you deserve a salary hike? We understand how you feel, and we’re here to help. Read our guide about Salary Hike where you can learn how to ask for a hike, what factors to consider, and how Healthysure can help you in the process with it’s Salary Hike Calculator.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Fixed and Variable Compensation

Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of fixed and variable compensation structures can further aid companies in designing comprehensive and effective compensation strategies.

Advantages of Fixed Compensation

Stability and Security

Fixed compensation provides a consistent and secure source of income for employees. This reliability is especially crucial for employees with financial obligations such as loans or mortgages, providing them with the certainty of a regular income.


Fixed compensation is simple and straightforward, making it easier to manage from an administrative perspective. Calculations and payroll processing are less complicated when dealing with a fixed sum.

Disadvantages of Fixed Compensation

Lack of Incentive

Fixed compensation offers little incentive for employees to exceed their regular duties or work at their maximum capacity. Without the possibility of earning more, some employees may lack the motivation to perform beyond the bare minimum.


A fixed compensation structure offers little room for adjustment based on performance or market conditions. This inflexibility can be a disadvantage in industries where performance significantly impacts business outcomes.

Advantages of Variable Compensation

Performance Incentive

Variable compensation serves as a direct incentive for better performance. Employees are motivated to work harder and achieve their targets to earn their variable compensation.


Variable compensation allows companies to reward high performers without permanently increasing their fixed costs. In financially challenging times, companies can also adjust variable compensation to better manage their expenses.

Disadvantages of Variable Compensation


Variable compensation can be unpredictable, making it difficult for employees to plan their finances. This uncertainty can be stressful for employees who rely on their income to meet their financial obligations.


Variable compensation structures can be complex to manage. They require well-defined performance metrics and regular tracking to ensure fair distribution.

Designing an Effective Compensation Structure

An effective compensation structure often involves a mix of fixed and variable compensation. The exact ratio will depend on various factors, including the nature of the work, the company’s financial situation, and employee preferences. It’s important to regularly review and adjust the compensation structure to ensure it remains competitive and motivating for employees.

The Role of Fixed and Variable Compensation in Retaining Talent

In the highly competitive landscape of talent acquisition and retention, the structure of fixed and variable compensation plays a crucial role.

Attracting Talent

Prospective employees often consider the total compensation package, including both fixed and variable components, when evaluating job offers. A well-structured package that offers a competitive salary (fixed compensation) and opportunities for additional earnings (variable compensation) can help attract top talent.

Motivating Performance

Once onboard, employees need motivation to perform at their best. Variable compensation serves as a potent tool to incentivize employees to exceed their targets, as they stand to gain financially from their exceptional performance.

Retaining High Performers

A strategically designed variable compensation structure can aid in retaining high-performing employees. By tying a portion of their income to their performance, these employees can earn significantly more than their base pay, making it financially rewarding for them to stay with the company.

The Impact of Fixed and Variable Compensation on Organizational Success

The balance between fixed and variable compensation is not only essential for individual employee satisfaction and motivation but also has broader implications for the organization’s success.

Financial Management

From a financial perspective, variable compensation can help businesses manage their payroll costs more efficiently. During lean periods, the overall compensation costs can decrease as the variable component adjusts to the company’s financial performance.

Employee Engagement

A well-structured compensation plan can increase employee engagement. When employees see a direct correlation between their efforts and their earnings, they are likely to feel more invested in the organization’s success.

Organizational Performance

Over time, a performance-linked variable compensation can drive improvements in organizational performance. As employees strive to achieve their individual targets to earn their variable pay, the collective effort can lead to higher productivity and profitability.


Striking the right balance between fixed and variable compensation is both an art and a science. It requires a thorough understanding of your organization’s financial health, the nature of the jobs within your company, and the preferences of your employees. A well-designed compensation strategy can yield significant benefits, from attracting and retaining top talent to driving superior organizational performance. By being mindful of the advantages and drawbacks of both fixed and variable compensation, companies can devise compensation strategies that not only cater to their employees’ needs but also align with their overall business goals and objectives. As the world of work continues to evolve, maintaining a flexible and adaptive approach to compensation will be critical to staying competitive in the talent market.

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